Monday, September 29, 2008

Bull Moose & Squirrel

Dear Senator McCain,

I was taken aback the other day when I heard you declare that Theodore Roosevelt was your hero. This makes perfect sense for a little boy in the Canal Zone -- no TR, no Panama Canal (and probably no Panama). But you're all grown up and running for president on a platform of "I've suffered for my country, now it's your turn," and Americans are entitled to ask which Theodore Roosevelt you mean. Is it the bellicose TR (notice how I don't call him "Teddy" -- he hated that) who pushed for a huge navy and promoted the Spanish-American War? Or the TR who won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a settlement to the Russo-Japanese War of 1906, the only American president to be accorded that honor besides your fellow midshipman Jimmy Carter? I know you admire the TR who loved to hunt wild animals, and no doubt would have employed a helicopter for that purpose if he could. What about the TR who added 194 million acres to the National Park system, established the first National Bird Preserve in 1903 and the U.S. Forestry Service in 1905? That's pretty green, isn't it?

As I'm sure you know, TR was such a progressive nuisance as governor of New York that his party put him on the national ticket in 1900 to get him out of the way in the ceremonial office of Vice President; but Presidents sometimes die in office. Succeeding McKinley, TR used the power of his office to dissolve 40 illegal monopolies, regulate railroad rates which were gouging farmers, pass the Pure Food and Drug Act which established the FDA, and advocate -- wait for it -- a system of national health insurance. Do you think your new (and rather skittish) friends on the religious right know that your Roosevelt opposed putting "In God We Trust" on our coinage? A believer himself, he considered it sacrilegious, while insisting on the separation of church and state. I'm beginning to wonder if you ever thought about Theodore Roosevelt before Time magazine put him on the cover two years ago.

No doubt about it, he was a maverick. Disgusted by the rightward drift of the Republican Party, he helped form the Progressives and became their candidate for president in 1912 (and did better than any third-party candidate in history -- Taft was a dismal third). He must have known it would split the party, but he thought Woodrow Wilson was preferable to four more years of Big Bill. It's called principle. Look it up.

In the next generation, TR's progressive program was carried on by his niece Eleanor, who is almost as despised by your party as her husband. But this may not be the wrong time to point out that, as in 1932, the American financial system is hanging by a thread. This time, however, it's the thread spun by the New Deal. When Washington Mutual failed last week, millions of people did not lose everything because their accounts are insured by the FDIC up to $100,000. I know this is hardly significant to someone who thinks middle class starts at three million, but most of us get along on a lot less. The brokerage giants would not have failed had they been properly regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, another New Deal project rendered impotent by the Cheney-Bush regime. And the only reason millions more Americans are not destitute is that the regime failed in its efforts to "privatize" Social Security, i.e., turn its assets over to the financial wise guys at Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, et al. All these safeguards are the work of Democrats. Not just Democrats, liberal Democrats. If the Obama campaign doesn't remind people of that every ten minutes, I pity us all.

Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest man ever to take up residence in the White House. You want to be the oldest. There's absolutely nothing wrong with living for 72 years as long as you learn something along the way. American history would be a good place to start.

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